With California Sports Betting on Hold, Tribes Shift Focus to a Different Gambling Bill

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jun 8, 2023 12:00 AM
Tribes are currently shifting their focus away from California sports betting.

As the fate of California sports betting remains gridlocked, the states have currently shifted their focus to another gambling initiative

To be sure, this doesn't mean the local tribes have moved on from the push for sports betting in California altogether. The issue is merely on hold—in large part because legislative sessions have adjourned for the year, but also because the battle between tribes and some of the best online sportsbooks in the United States remains in full swing.

In lieu of material changes to the sports wagering debate and agendas, the tribes are zeroing in on another form of gambling. And this time, they're not fighting for the ability to offer a service. But rather, California tribes are angling for the right to shut another service down.

The target of their latest non-sports-betting bill?

California cardrooms.

California Tribes Seeking to Prevent State Cardrooms from Offering Blackjack and Other Traditional Gaming Options

Senator Josh Newman, a Democrat, has proposed a bill that aims to get courts to decide on the "legality of how cardrooms offer blackjack and other traditionally house-banked games." This is an issue the tribes have previously pushed to the forefront only to see their efforts get shut down. But given their increasing influence, many are wondering whether the latest attempt to limit cardroom offerings will be successful.

California sports betting and general gambling laws currently prohibit the commercialization of casinos and what are considered "house-banked" games. The term "house-banked" essentially refers to competitions that pit patrons against the business. The "house," for instance, runs a blackjack table. Players aren't competing against one another; they're competing against the "house"—which, in this case, is the cardroom.

As an aside, this is why online sports betting in California remains illegal. When you wager on the outcome of a game, prop, future or another type of event, you are typically betting against a sportsbook rather than other fellow wagerers. Ergo, this is considered a "house-banked" practice, which would be illegal under the current California constitution.

Of course, back in 2000, the state's laws were amended to grant an exception for local tribes. By agreeing to a gaming compact with the state, tribes could run house-banked games as well as slot machines on their own properties. Ever since then, basically, tribes have tried preventing cardrooms from being able to operate traditional table games such as blackjack, baccarat and others that usually fall under the "house-banked" umbrella.

Full Details of California Betting Bill Tribes are Currently Pushing

The details of the new California gambling bill, known as SB 549, can get a little convoluted. In exact terms, it doesn't seek to cut off cardrooms at the knees. It is instead about tribes gaining the right to have their case and standing heard.

For more information, let's turn to Matthew Kredell of PlayUSA:

"The purpose and intent of SB 549, also known as the Tribal Declaratory Relief Act of 2023, is explained in the bill as: 'To authorize a limited declaratory and injunctive relief action before the California courts to determine whether certain controlled games operated by California card clubs are illegal banking card games or legal controlled games, thereby resolving a decade-long dispute between California tribes and California card clubs concerning the legality of those controlled games and whether they infringe upon exclusive tribal gaming rights.'"

In Layman's terms: California tribes want courts at the state level to hear their case and decide one way or another on the fate of cardrooms. That makes SB 549 unique in so many ways. It doesn't force the state to deliver any singular resolution. It merely mandates they render an official ruling on the subject at all—regardless of which side that ruling might favor.

Even though this measure doesn't demand a specific outcome, it still has more than its fair share of opponents. Kyle Kirkland, the president of the California Gaming Association, has said that passing this bill would simply represent bending to tribal demands. He also believes that this is just an instance of tribes attempting to shape or reshape policy only because they're not entirely getting their way.

Why Has California Sports Betting Stopped Making Headlines?

Many might interpret the tribes' latest interest as evidence they don't see the California sports betting issue coming to an end anytime soon. This isn't exactly true.

There's not much anyone can do about sports betting right now. The state legislature won't reconvene until the beginning of next year, which is when sports gambling figures to be front and center. Expect tribes to become more engrossed in that battle as we near the end of 2023.

Granted, this presumes the tribes haven't already won the battle—and the war. Experts throughout the industry already expect California online sports betting to flop again in 2024. Others don't even anticipate online sportsbooks attempting to pass another measure. Commercial operators burned a ton of money on their last campaign and were overwhelmingly opposed by the state's voters.

This could mean that the tribes are able to push through on-site-only sports betting without much resistance in 2024. While their 2022 measure was also voted down, they have more support throughout every level of the local government.

So if anything, the tribal focus on cracking down on cardrooms could actually be evidence that the future of California sports betting is already decided, at least in the short term.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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